Forsaking the World
“Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29).
Forsake is a strong word. It means being cut off, discharged, or exiled. Few understood the word so well as St. Benedict. As a young man born into wealth, he gave up everything for the kingdom of God. He forsook the luxury of city life for poverty in the wilderness. He forsook ties with family and friends to create new ties with saints and angels. He forsook the status quo, the socially accetable of his times, in order to embrace a lifestyle radically different, a life in Christ. St. Benedict is our man today.
America is not a Christian nation. It was once. It is no longer today. Indeed, our culture is not merely losing its Christian roots. It is ripping them up with such ferver that you would think there was a race. The corosion of Rome in St. Benedict’s life took centuries to unfold. That was before the world wide web and social media. We are far more efficient today. The world is rushing forward in one, undisguised direction, and what are we Christians doing?
Twenty-six years ago, this parish dedicated itself to the vision of St. Benedict. A group of men and women looked at the world then and saw where it was going. They had a choice, to float downstream with society, or to rip themselves apart and turn in a new direction. Indeed, the community that started St. Benedict’s really did embody our Lord’s words:
“Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold” (Matthew 19:29).
The founders of our parish took a dive. They had a beautiful building downtown, they lived a religious life that was respected by locals, they had all the comforts of traditions long-established, and they gave it up for Orthodoxy. Why? Today, on our parish feast day, we have an opportunity to revisit why.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
To be Christian is to be an exile. The Jews had a special covenant with God. It was because of that covenant that they were cut off from the world. They could not fit in with the Egyptians. Their very relationship with God forced them to live in pilgrimage. Elijah fled the world. After the clash between his religion and Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah ran off into the wilderness where he eventually met God. Jesus Christ, as soon as he began his ministry, was rejected by his hometown. “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (Mark 6:4). The apostles were no different, and the trend continues today. You cannot float downstream and belong to God.
What was so profound about St. Benedict? He not only forsook. He pursued. Anyone can see the problems in the world. It was written on the walls then just as it is written on the walls today. Have you ever sat and listened at a barber’s shop? It is a better source of news then any channel on TV, and far more enjoyable. Something is wrong with this world. Everyone knows it and everyone is talking about it. But what is the solution? St. Benedict was not running away from something merely. He was runnings towards something. He saw the direction of the world, and he chose to labor for the Kingdom of God.
Others must have fled too. You know St. Benedict was not unique in seeing the problems. But what about the others? They must have run from the world, but not towards anything else. This is the powerful message from St. Benedict. He ran with a mission.
He was not idle in the woods. He began to pray. He pursued Truth, Goodness, and Beauty with a passion and dedicated his life to teaching others about them. He grounded his life in the Life of the Church. Hundreds followed him and they built communities in this common pursuit. What did they have? Nothing. They had given it all up for the life of the Church, and that was enough. Little by little, these small Christian communities created an entirely new world. Communities dedicated to Christ created monasteries, universities, hospitals, scientists, artists and all the wonders of Christian civilization.
We are here too to create Christian culture. Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, made a bold statement the other day. However much he was criticized, regardless of one’s political bent or ideologies, he spoke some of the truest words ever spoken by a politician.
“You cannot change the culture of a country until you change the character of mankind…You can’t change that unless you change the heart, and for billions of us on the planet, we believe you can’t do that unless you accept Jesus Christ, unless you accept God.”
What does it mean to accept Jesus Christ? It means accepting the Church, the Body of Christ. It is a whole way of being. Loud, emotional worship music does not cut it. Smoke screens and a passionate sermon are not enough. Neither is it enough to merely enjoy the sentimentality of traditional worship, to the take the holy pill, the Eucharist, and go home.
The Orthodox Church offers a whole way of life. It is a life grounded in all the sacraments. It is a life anchored in constant love and forgiveness for one another. It is a dance, if you will, a lifestyle. In rituals and worship, fasting and feasting, confession and absolution, and determined dedication to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, we discover the possibility for true change of mankind. St. Benedict discovered this. The little communities he formed discovered it, and together they changed the world. So, we too, if we ground ourselves in this vocation, can make a difference for the Kingdom of God.
Why are we here? We are here to pursue the Kingdom of God, and that is enough. There is nothing in this world that can steal that from us. There is nothing in the news that is important enough to shatter our peace. We have the Kingdom of God, and there is nothing more.
May God anchor our hearts in the only true thing that matters, to forsake the world and to live the Kingdom.